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Archive for the ‘Gastronomic Stimulus’ Category

Booze in the Ville: The Politics and Mathematics of Alcohol Sales

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 22, 2013

vote yes

I am a Clintonville Citizen and I approve my own message:


There are three issues that long time Clintonvillians hold as crucibles among their neighbors.

1) The Morse-Bethel Road Connector (I am against it, I think I wrote a good letter to the editor about it years ago).

2) Widening the intersection at High Street and East North Broadway (I see both sides of the argument. I sympathize with both sides of the argument. I think most of the people against it are crackpots. I think all the people for it don’t live on East North Broadway. My position. Typically neutral, but I would vote for a compromise which would be a southbound right turn lane added to the West-East lane. This would cut down on traffic and would only affect a building that is on its last legs – no trees lost, no houses hindered and hopefully a good payout the property owner for being a good citizen.

3) Alcohol Sales in Clintonville All over Clintonville. To that I say yes. Or at least mostly yes.


My mission is to discuss item number three. There was an urban legend that Clintonville was the dry part of the city. Such is not the case. For the most part the area is wet and has been for many decades. One of the oldest bars in the city is the Crest Tavern – now the Crest Gastropub. Many years ago, I did a Clintonville Bar crawl which involved drinking at 13 bars in 14 hours (with a 2 hour siesta to eat pizza and watch a horse race at my house). Since then, a few bars and several even better beer shops have been added to the mix of choices. However some areas remain dry most notably the area by my house. On May 7th, residents in Clintonville will be able to change that. I hope they come out in droves to vote yes. I will.

A much better article by a writer with better pedigree in a publication with a much larger fan base will hint at the argument I am going to proffer. Maybe people will connect the dots when the article is published or surmise the doctrine I am getting ready to preach. However, to help those that might vote before the article comes out here we go.

First let’s start with the possible reasons that people might have been against alcohol sales in the past. Clintonville is a very family oriented part of town that really hit its original peak in the 1960’s. Having watched four seasons of Mad Men, I could see why residents would have wanted to cut down on the sales of alcohol in our fair community – Clintonville would have been a Peyton Place of debauchery. In the modern era, I can say that most of the bars in Clintonville really suck – with the exception of O’Reilly’s, maybe Bob’s Bar and hopefully the brand new Crest Gastropub. I could see people wanting to hold mediocrity at bay. We have about the same number of “meh” pizzerias in the area. Just say no to more lame bars and average pizza, say yes to the chance a well crafted meal. I am sure there are other thoughtful reasons why certain areas of Clintonville were/are anti-alcohol and if you know those, please post here.

Now for why I am pro and why I hope others will be voting yes as well. The major gripe of residents of Clintonville is a lack of good restaurant choices. While a restaurant does not need alcohol sales to be successful, it really, really helps. As for me, I usually don’t drink at dinner but I observe that quite a few do. Studies show that people generally limit their alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks with a meal. This is not enough to risk public drunkenness but it is enough to make a sizeable increase in a restaurants bottom line. Beer and wine are easy to serve and store and even easier to mark up. Many a restaurant will mark it up a lot. While a good cocktail requires a good, skilled bartender who can mix a good drink, engage in good banter with the customers, somehow not want to rip off the owner of the establishment and have the common sense and tact to cut people off at the right time in the right way – a good beer or wine just requires someone with the skill to open a bottle. Most people can do that well with the right tool and for a lower wage.

I have seen many restaurants come and go in Clintonville over the years. The one I miss the most, strangely, is G.D. Ritzey’s. Many closed because they had a mediocre product and mediocre service and that is something alcohol sales can’t fix. But to get the right restaurants and the right traffic flow industry knowledge tells us that alcohol sales is the key. It does not have to be liquor but wine and beer do help sales a lot. The profit margins on a middle of the road menu are pretty narrow and money is made in volume and turning tables quick. If you want to have a higher grade of food and the profit margins that go with it an owner needs something to entertain the common man between courses and to provide pompous Epicureans something to pontificate about….their knowledge of wine.

I have discussed Clintonville with several successful restaurant owners and business developers. What are the barriers to having the type of restaurants we want…..an alcohol permit. Part of the problem is a city buracracy that is burdensome to deal with and second part blocking the solution are a few dry districts with a few people that fear having suds near their abodes. The spot we would all like to see do well but has floundered is the spot on High Street that was: Scottie McBean and Babuska’s and will someday be Talitas. The two former eateries were “meh” – average food with some nice people that tried did not make it. Would beer and wine sales saved either of these businesses….in the long run, I think not. But the location would be much more attractive to someone to try if they could add a high mark up item to the menu. Place a strong menu driven restaurant with a few alcoholic beverages in that spot and it could do well. The demand is there. Look at Villa Nova just up the road- a bastion of middle of the road dining for decades. While the bar is not the reason for the success of the place – it has helped a lot. When the Wildflower Cafe added alcohol sales – it was the shot in arm the place needed to uptick sales in a slow economy. (Please by no means assume I am saying think Wildflower is fine dining – I might say average, but I like having the place in the community and want to keep it and others like it). The Crest Gastropub is going to help drive south Clintonville to a new level or prosperity and keep more of our dining dollars near home. I would love to see more places like that in North Clintonville as an alternative to…..nothing.

What might turn this tide? Mozart’s and Vienna Ice Cafe. The owners have purchased a property near Morse Road to move into. The have a long history in our community. They are committed to the restaurant they plan to open with or without alcohol sales but they are asking Clintonville to vote to allow them to have the opportunity to serve alcohol. Their friends and employees hit the streets to ask people to sign the petition. I hope the issue passes and I hope that increases the chance of Mozart’s and any other new restaurants in the area in their the odds of survival and sustainability. It costs money to bring the issue to the table and it will cost money not to have it pass but it will cost all of us additional culinary options and opportunities if we do not open up the last areas of our community to the pursuit of happiness in the form of an overpriced beer, an overvalued glass of wine or locally produced spirit. Vote yes, to give our community hope to brighten our gray culinary landscape and help us grow our community by adding what people have said has been missing forever – better restaurant choices.

Posted in Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | 2 Comments »

Sharon Square Food Arcade

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 12, 2013

SSFA2

So here is the thing. Well one of the things. While the whole concept of mobile food is being on the move, if an owner wants business people need to find the truck or cart. The best way to do that is to pick a spot, go there consistently for set hours, “train” the community to seeing you there and wondering what you do. Then with some luck, a lot of marketing, a good product and plenty of word of mouth….maybe you get enough business to keep going there. Investing that much time and risk into one spot is a lot to ask a new business and being stationary is contrary to mobile food right? Maybe not.

Someone on the move in the mobile food community is Rosa Huff, the owner of Crepes a la Carte. Full of Chutzpah and ideas she often a whirlwind of chaotic energy. She and her husband own a computer business at Sharon Square, a small retail strip right on the line between Worthington and Columbus….actually the line runs almost exactly in the middle of the parking lot. Long ago, Sharon Square housed a pizzeria. There is a hard to see walkway in the middle of the building which has an arcade feel to it. Rosa’s mind started to churn and she wondered…”maybe I can set up in the parking lot and serve my own community”. She tried it out on the late fall/early winter of 2012 and took the winter off to tweak the concept.

OK let’s track back a paragraph to this sentence Investing that much time and risk into one spot is a lot to ask a new business and being stationary is contrary to mobile food right? So how about teaming up with other mobile vendors to get more attention and building a following for the spot by offering a diversity of foods and making sure the hours that are committed to the community are covered. Somewhat unique to the world of business is mobile food, at least in Columbus. Most food trucks and carts view themselves as a community, not hardcore competitors but collaborators. It is their job to grow their own business and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that like-minded businesses do more than survive, they need to thrive so they can be sustainable and legitimize the “brand” of mobile food. So with all this being said, Rosa looked for someone to partner with to build her concept in 2013 and she choose Matt and Lyle from Swoop.

Together with some other guest star mobile fooders, they have been quietly growing the Sharon Square Food Arcade over the winter. I contacted Lyle from Swoop to get some scoops on what is going on now and what we can expect to see in the future.

What is the current schedule for Sharon Square Food Arcade?

We are currently opening on Tuesday and Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm as follows

4/16/13 TBA

4/17/13 Ajumama

4/23/13 Cheesy Truck

4/24/13 TBA

4/30/13 Paddy Wagon

5/1/13 Kenny’s Meat Wagon

How many vendors are there now? Are there plans to expand the number of vendors?

We have 9 vendors but would like to expand that if possible its just a matter of making sure everyone involved has a good experience.

Are there plans to expand the number of days or times of service?

Right now we like the hours of 6pm to 8pm for dinner. It is a good second shift for any mobile vendor to tack on a few extra dollars to a lunch day. We also know how hard it is on the body to be in the truck or standing in the sun for too many hours so that will probably stay the same.

In May we will probably introduce Fridays and Saturdays (Saturdays probably extended lunch hours 12pm to 3pm)

What inspired the name?

There is an old arcade in Sharon Square that is hopefully a part of the future of the pod (maybe a place to go inside and eat during the hotter/colder months) Ultimately if the old arcade never becomes of use to the pod we still like the name a lot!

How did Swoop get involved?

Rosa and her Husband Tom have a computer shop in the strip mall and live nearby and became very conscious of the fact that the food in the area needed a little more variety and because of Rosa’s connection to mobile food she saw a very easy way to give her neighbors and friends new food to try (bring the restaurants to them!). Swoop! wanted to add a couple more dinners to their schedule in the winter months and saw this location as perfect place to test for a future pod. Swoop! boosted the mobile food awareness for the neighborhood and now that its getting warm wants everyone to share in the square (get it Sharon Square…share in square).

How can people find out more about the Sharon Square Food Arcade?

Facebook: facebook.com/5594NHigh

and email inquires: Sharonsquarefoodarcade@gmail.com

Anything else that you want to add?

We brought out the food that we felt best fit the feedback we got from the neighbors but we encourage everyone to like the Facebook page as well so that we can continue to poll everyone and schedule the vendors that the people in the area want the most and in turn create a place for mobile food to always have a good and profitable service.

Note: You may see the lack on Swoop in the schedule and some TBA’s. The Swoop Food Truck was hit by a car in early April and will be out of commission for a short while, in the meantime, they may make some appearances in food cart form so people don’t suffer lackofswoopitis.

Where to find the Sharon Square Food Arcade:

5594 North High Street (1 mile south of SR 161, 1 mile north of Morse Road)
Columbus not Worthington….but almost

Posted in CLOSED, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Quickbyte: Cumin

Posted by CMH Gourmand on January 27, 2013

Visual Cliffnotes for this entry below:

cumin

Some parties have heard me say: “I like me a good buff–ette, I does, umm hum” – in my best Slingblade voice. That statement is somewhat correct but with a big ass disclaimer. The typical buffet sends shivers down my spine. I recall trips to a remote region of West Virginia where the highlight for my father would be a value meal at one of two restaurants in town, both of which were buffet based. Knowing that my only other option was to wipe out my emergency supplies of beef jerky or hitchhike fifty or more miles to the nearest other eatery, I acquiesced and accepted my choices from among eighty pre-made, microwaved selections.

There is a place for buffets in this world, but in my world, the only time is don’t wince is when I am gorging myself on an ethnic buffet. The buffet minimizes the likelihood that my lack of knowledge of another culture will cause me to select the one bad option on a menu. I am not enough of a risk taker to blow my one roll of the ordering dice. I want to try everything, so I can get a broad understanding of the cuisine in question and pretend my massive consumption is fueled by a desire to expand my horizons, not my waistline. That is what I tell myself and others. I can sell it, even when I come back with my third plate of choices piled beyond a reasonable height for transporting.

In all seriousness, if the cuisine is Ethiopian, Somali or Indian – I hope for a buffet. I don’t know enough about these cuisines to order well and when I do find something I like I can either not recall what it was or how to pronounce it. For any other buffet, with the possible exception of the Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta buffet of a decade ago or the annual high-end Chinese holiday buffet, I will always say no to the buffet card. If it is Indian, I will always say yes.

I really enjoy the offerings of Banana Leaf and Udipi Cafe….but since one of my life missions is to incite others to boldly go where their palettes have not gone before, the missing link in my informal tours of culinary discovery has been a meat eaters tour of India. I can lure the wary to a vegetarian restaurant or an Indian restaurant….but trying both is pushing the line too far.

I recently encountered an individual that had never had an Indian buffet experience….ever, and it had been too long for me. As it turned out, my to dine list included Cumin which highlighted buffet options that were meat-centric.

However, there was a snag, we would both have to fight through some hangups to get there. I would have to journey to the greater Polaris area. My partner in dine, would have to engage in ethnic buffeting.

Ok. Time to take a pause. First, let me apologize to you, the reader. The quickbyte series is generally that – a short paragraph about something – usually one thing – worth eating. But the wind up on this one has been long and windy. Let’s now get to the meat of the matter.

Cumin offers an Indian buffet or a la carte experience that is safe for the neophyte. The surroundings are new, spotlessly clean, upscale…. bordering on elegant. There is no language barrier or cultural awkwardness. These folks have acclimated to the Midwest and deliver their cuisine in a culturally sensitive manner – large portions, lots of good visuals and fluent American English. Minus the aroma of cumin and curry, one might think they were in a Cameron Mitchell concept restaurant. The service is impeccable. The staff monitor each table like hawks, waiting and watching for the hint of a possibility that a diner might need anything. You could easily envision a slow motion scurry with a server launching themselves through the air at the exact moment your beverage hits 84% capacity. My partner in dine and I were asked no few than five times if we needed more naan.

Not to knock my other Indian buffet choices, but they typically lack decor, decorum and might not be the places that exude optimal dining for someone who is already pushing their comfort zone.

My thoughts on Cumin. The food was great. I would travel back to the Polaris area during non peak times to dine there again. This would be my suggested place for a first Indian experience (with training wheels) without sacrificing flavor.

Cumin
1025 Polaris Parkway
Lunch Buffet
Monday to Friday
11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday
11:30 am to 3:00 pm
614.854.0775

Cumin Indian Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Posted in CLOSED, Gastronomic Stimulus, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The Dine Originals Week Dare: (For November 12th to 18th)

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 11, 2012

It is Dine Originals Week again. As you might know I have a tradition of going to Pistacia Vera to wrap up my Dine Originals Week. Unfortunately the sampler is not the feature this time but the Quiche and Coffee choices are still a great deal for $10. Another tradition for me (when possible) is the Deepwood Lunch menu if I can sneak downtown for an afternoon meal. Here is the menu for all of the Dine Originals Restaurants and what they have to offer for the week. Take a long look first before reading on.

Many of you have heard of Taco Bell’s 4th Meal, which is what the company terms late night eating. I might call this the duder dinner or Jill’s Meal Deal (Chili Dooog!!!!). Many of my more literate or nerdy readers may be familiar with the eating habit of Hobbits, which I have adopted. The concept of second breakfast is well-known to Lord of the Rings fans. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know from my recent adventure in Athens that I am an advocate of 4th Dinner (O’Betty’s, Casa Nueva, O’Betty’s Number Two, and then the wild card of Jackie O’s, Burrito Buggy, or Miller’s Chicken). Tolkein scholars will say that Hobbits eat six to seven meals per day. This is what I have found to be the Hobbit meal structure:

1st Breakfast
2nd Breakfast
Elevenses
Luncheon
Tea
Dinner
Supper

Okay, so having reviewed all of this information, tell (in the comments section) me how you would play out your seven meals in one day using the Dine Originals menu. The best answer wins a Dine Originals Gift Certificate. If they are all incredible answers (which is my expectation of my fans) then I will draw a winner at random. The challenge will run until November 18th. Good Luck. I can say that I did do three Dine Originals meals in a day during the premiere year and was a better person for it.

Update: The entries were drawn at random (although I did disqualify Chairman L for not following the Hobbit Model). The winner is J. Novak who will receive a Dine Originals Certificate.

Thank you to all to all that entered you really did a great job at picking out places.

Posted in Gastronomic Stimulus, restaurants | 6 Comments »

Ray Ray’s 2.0: Two Trucks, Same Menu, Much Better Venue

Posted by CMH Gourmand on May 1, 2012

It was a sad day for Baja Clintonville. It was a great day for Old North Columbus, Jaime Anderson, Ace of Cups and the SoHud Non-Industrial Complex. After an extraordinary run in an unlikely convenience store parking Ray Ray’s Hog Pit has moved on.

There is no need for me to write accolades about Ray Ray’s – 96% of your already know or have read about Ray Ray’s and wanted to go but never did. You now have many more reasons to drive just slightly south on High Street for the full Ray Ray’s experience. The BBQ master is now based at Ace of Cups. What does that mean? It means beer…good beer, a patio, a great live music line up and a bar that will be successful in a location that has repeatedly failed. It also means better parking, twice the BBQ output and a pairing of two business that were meant for each other. By combining their strengths, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Ray Rays and Ace of Cups is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, (the peanut butter and chocolate) of food pairings.

Marcy Mays is the owner and bartender in chief of Ace of Cups. You might have heard of her in a past life in the band Scrawl or maybe as a one of the founders of saloon called Surly Girl. She has taken a building that was a bank, that turned into a series of failed bars. It was a place that never seemed to come together. She is making it work while working fulltime and pursuing other projects at the same time. Ace of Cups has a ping-pong table to complement the patio and an inside menu, with vegan items to complete the carnivorous offerings of Ray Ray’s.

Jaime Anderson worked in the BBQ trade before finding a niche in a trailer that did great in an unwieldy spot. The secret to success: time, word of mouth and a commitment to the art and science of BBQ that polished this diamond in the rough. It worked. But not without some barriers. The biggest obstacles – some bull-headed bureaucracy and literally a handful of people who saw a small business person, running a BBQ operation in a trailer as a threat to their customer base or as someone who should be paying a higher rent elsewhere out of self-interest, not community good.

There is a downside to the story of Ray Ray’s 1.0. This is where the bureaucracy comes in. Jaime has a trailer. Pubic Health requires that a food trailer move every 45 days. There is some obscurely worded, arcane and unclear zoning and other city regulations that are inconsistently observed as requiring a trailer to move every day. From a health and safety standpoint – there is no support for this requirement. From a practical and pragmatic point of view the 24 hour rule is rarely enforced and often ignored but for some reason the microscope zoomed in on Jaime. Maybe he was too successful, received too much press or caught some bad karma. The 1% won against the 99% on this joust.

Jaime tried to get the city departments to explain to him why he had to tear down and set each day that he was in operation. He was only set up a few days a week so the possibility of being unsafe or unsanitary did not exist. Jaime continued to hit a brick wall fighting city hall and never received a real answer. He invested money and time, hired a lawyer and more. Eventually he had to give up, suck it up and waste three to five hours each business day setting up and tearing down for no good reason. In spite of this Sisyphean effort, he continued, thrived and has now moved on. For a point of record….there is another trailer business nearby which does not set up and tear down every day. There are several mobile businesses that dodge the hoops Jaime had to jump through. Is there some reason he was singled out? Whatever it was, he has moved on to a better place and Clintonville loses a bit of its character in the process. Fortunately, Ray Ray’s is still a short bike ride away from his original spot. The Ville will miss you Ray Ray’s but we could not think of a better spot for you. Thanks for being the peanut butter Ace of Cups. And now we watch a reason to visit Clintonville and discover our other independent businesses go away. Now Ray Ray’s is a side note in our community history of lost opportunities.

Ray Ray's Hog Pit on Urbanspoon

Posted in bar, BBQ, Clintonville, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Ray Ray’s Takes a Swing at Wings and Hits a Homerun

Posted by CMH Gourmand on February 7, 2012

The subtitle of this post may be mythbusters. This writer has heard two mobile myths perpetuated of late: Mobile food is a fad and food trucks can’t make a living year round. Enter Ray Ray’s.

Jaime (Ray Ray) Anderson continues to prove that with a good product, a little business sense and a lot of hard work, a person can make a good living from a mobile food truck or trailer. Ray Ray’s has served BBQ from the same location for over two years. Ray Ray’s stays open through the winter, serving 52 weeks each year. Jaime takes opportunities to try out new menu items such as smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas as well a grass fed beef special on Sunday’s. For Superbowl Sunday, he decided to serve wings and the results were……take a look for yourself. When I visited, the line was fifty people deep and still growing.

If you grill it, BBQ it or cook it right, they will come. You might have to wait for the next Superbowl for wings….but maybe not, seems like it would be a good item for fall tailgating.

Posted in CLOSED, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Street Meat Myths: An Editorial

Posted by CMH Gourmand on January 11, 2012

Disclaimer:

The opinions expressed in this work are my own and should not be construed as the views of my friends, family, anyone who employs me or uses me as a consultant, current or ex-girlfriends, definitely anyone that dislikes me or the citizens of Singapore. The opinions are probably shared by my dog. My opinions are clearly well-reasoned, insightful and may be a staggering work of genius.

As for you as a reader of this blog, I know I am preaching to the choir.

Recently there was an article in The Columbus Dispatch about placing Food Trucks in Franklinton as a means to help grow an area of town looking for a boost and to create a few jobs. Neat idea, everyone wins. Hooray!

Well…no. There is a vocal minority in our city who have a deep-seated hatred for mobile food. There is also a sizeable apathetic majority who don’t care one way or the other.

This is not a surprise to me. I have encountered these concerns since 2009 when Andy, Bethia and I started the Taco Trucks Columbus website. From our perspective we were sharing a hidden part of Columbus culinary culture with the world. The number and the quality of Taco Trucks in Columbus sets our city apart from any city in the Midwest and most in the country. It has drawn nationwide attention. It puts Columbus on a map. It proves our city has diversity. The food is VERY good.

But to some people, this does not matter. Many detractors have never eaten at a Taco Truck yet they are fast to make all types of allegations about the legitimacy of these businesses. In my experience these accusations were often just thin veils for racism. Harsh words but true.

The non Taco Truck scene of Street Food is on the upswing in Columbus. We are looking at the sophomore year of the new wave of Mobile Fooders this spring. Even with the additional diversity to our Street Meats, there is still some strong negative feedback. The best example from last year involved Yerba Buena. This trailer is the mobile expansion of a very popular Venezulan restaurant called El Arepazo. The trailer set up on a vacant property in the middle of Clintonville with the permission of the property owner. It was enjoyed by the community. And then reports of complaints were forwarded by a Clintonville Area Commissioner. This came as a surpise by many in the neighborhood since north Clintonville has limited restaurant options and the food served by Yerba Buena was considered very good. There is some speculation that the “many” complaints came from one person. Considering I had a conversation about mobile food with the person speculated as the one man army of complaint generation before Yerba Buena hit the scene in Clintonville, I am inclined to agree that the concerns were single-minded….from a single person. Yerba Buena had to move to a less customer friendly location and due to less foot traffic, they has to shut down early for the season. This was a loss for Clintonville which has developed an under the radar mobile food scene. As a very interesting aside, I would like to point out that there has been a mobile food operation located at Blenheim and Indianola (in Clintonville) for over a decade. This operation (less than a mile from the original location of Yerba Buena) received no reports of complaints. Was Yerba Buena targeted? Maybe. An additional note. I live in Clintonville. My neighbors want mobile food since there are limited locations and opportunities to open traditional brick and mortar restaurants in our neighborhood.

Am I biased about this topic, absolutely, however, that does not negate my ability to use reason and good sense. I have been deeply invested in the world of mobile food for over two years. I know it is not a fad. It is a resurging style of business that is trending more now to the mainsteam due to a limping economy. Is Mobile Food good for our communities and our local economies? Yes. I say this without reluctance or reservation.

I now make a living by helping people start a mobile or non mobile food business. I see people literally everyday who have a dream and a desire to build something of their own. I get to help most of them do that. For many going mobile is the only way that can realize that dream. The costs to start a new brick and mortar restaurant are beyond the budgets of most of the 99% and too risky for most banks. I am a board member of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association, I am not going to support anything to break a brick and mortar restaurant business. Mobile food is not a threat to brick and mortar businesses, in fact it can be a boon. Many established restaurants are looking for ways to make mobile work for them by having their own mobile operations. Columbus is considered by many to have one of the hottest food truck scenes this side of the Mississipi. As a city, we have the opportunity to support this concept and add it to the identity of Columbus. Unfortunately, there is a vocal minority who are not on board and seem intent on derailing any efforts to make our city a mobile food destination.

Mobile Food also allows a business person to take a risk on a menu concept or a part of town that no one else is willing or able to do. New businesses mobile or brick and mortar bring new life and vibrancy to forgotten parts of town. This is currently going on in Old Town East.


OK. Take a break and a stretch then come back to keep reading because I am just getting started.


Now back to The Columbus Dispatch article.

There were some supportive comments, but most were, well. read for yourself. I am copying the less inflammatory comments in italics and responding to and debunking each.

This should be combined with Coleman’s gang-control xbox events at the community centers. Park ’em outside the rec centers and let everyone experience the brilliance that is Columbus. Seriously though, taco and fancy desert trucks parked in front of an empty ghetto store front aren’t about to attract many into the hoods – where do these people get these ideas…. and why is the Dispatch dumb enough to print them? oh that’s right, Portland did it!

Hmm, a new food concept attracting people to the hoods (or anywhere)? Could it happen? Yes. Once upon a time there was a place in Columbus called the Short North. In the 1980’s, it was a seedy part of town. A couple of businesses took a chance and planted roots along High Street. One of these pioneers was Rigsbys Kitchen. People came. The area grew. How did they attract people to this area? One idea was to have a Gallery Hop once per month. Other examples where mobile food has helped grow an area down on its luck: South Congress neighborhood of Austin, Texas, Oakland, California and Cleveland.

Hmm. New, independent food business sets up in a part of town coming off the skids, add some art and…..the Short North has a rebirth. Wacky, crazy. How could FOOD+ART=Progress?

“Portland did it!”
Yes they did and minus a few speed bumps its has worked well and added to the identity of the city. You know what else I want Columbus to steal from Portland….more bike lanes and microbreweries.

This is another way to blight an area. Food trucks come in and take business from brick and mortar eating establishments and some will go out of business. This is another bone head move. Don’t let it happen.

The people I have spoken with in Franklinton don’t share this view. There are limited dining options in Franklinton, especially on the evening and weekends. There is a need for more food choices and a desire to grow, nurture and support new, small independent businesses. I know and have spoken with two Franklinton area restaurant owners. They are not concerned about losing business to a food truck, they want more people to come to Franklinton…because they care about the community and have a desire to attract new customers as well. Statements about food trucks killing a brick and mortar restaurant are frequently made, but to date, I have yet to have anyone give me a real life example where this happened….anywhere.

What a moron idea that is. Is it art or food or what? Anyway it cheapens an area to see skanky taco trucks parked. What about health concerns and are they paying taxes? This is unfair to restaurants who follow all of the rules.

Let’s start with health concerns.

Taco Trucks (an all mobile vendors) are inspected by the Columbus Board of Health. Each truck should display a green Columbus Health Department Color Coded Inspection Sign with the date of the last inspection. Inspections occur at least once per year, just like any restaurant or food supplier. Taco Truck owners must have a peddlers license as well.

Health Department Tested, CMH Gourmand Approved

Health Department Tested, CMH Gourmand Approved

A yellow health department tag means the truck has been warned about a health code issue and is on probation while they implement recommended changes – so menu items may be limited. A red sticker indicates a major health code violation and the business is closed.

Mobile food vendors, including taco trucks, can get a bad rap. Hot dog carts and hamburger stands fought these same stereotypes in the 20th century as they evolved into American icons. How many restaurant kitchens have you seen? This writer has seen some very scary kitchens behind closed doors. Mobile Food vendors operate open kitchens – customers can see every step in the preparation process for start to serving time. If you are wary of a truck – order the cheapest item – watch how it is prepared. If something gives you the creeps – pay, walk away and call the Health department, cut your losses and move on to the next truck. The owner of the truck is often the one cooking your food. He or she depends on repeat business to stay in business and cleanliness is the key to happy customers and health inspectors. The inspectors make regular spot checks on mobile food vendors just as they do for restaurants, grocery stores, fair food stands and elsewhere. So the answer is: mobile food operations are as clean as any other food you eat and in this case – at least you can see it before you eat it.

And….part two: are they paying taxes? This is unfair to restaurants who follow all of the rules.

Do mobile food vendors pay taxes. Yes. They also pay rent, buy liability insurance, fork over cash for a peddlers permit, sign on the dotted line for several licenses and inspections with the city Health and Public Safety Departments, buy gas at your local gas station, purchase food from local purveyors and follow the same guidelines and expectations as a restaurant. If mobile food operations don’t follow the rules, they get cited and go out of business quickly.

What a wonderful idea..to consider a bunch of itinerant “roach coaches” as art. Ptomaine Tomas never had it so good. Just not quite like the present day Hawker Centres in Singapore. But, then the economic vitality is not quite the same in Columbus, OH either. There is no way a service based economy that Columbus has descended into will ever achieve the greatness of it’s long lost industrial/manufacturing economic base.

I am going to be snarky here. Read the article again – the trucks are not the art component of these plans. As for the other comments, well, they reflect the writer.

Too many restaurants are at their margin between staying afloat or going under. Hoggy’s just closed all but one location and these typhoid trucks on wheels want to serve food on the fly. No thanks.

Why are these restaurants going under? Hoggys was not put into receivership by a food truck nor has any other restaurant in Columbus. To my knowledge, I can not recall any food truck that has ever been in a mile of any Hoggy’s location. One reason restaurants go under….they are expensive to run and difficult to staff. The money that it takes to open a new restaurant in this economy is just not viable or sustainable for most people. Competition is good for any business as long as the playing field is fair. Most mobile operators would say the deck is more stacked against them than a brick and mortar restaurant when current city regulations and weather are considered….I agree.

The food trucks explosion has boomed in both downtown Cleveland and Fountain Square in Cincy but of course this is Columbus where it won’t be done properly and will get no support. Soooooo Columbus……

There is support, we just need to grow it. We can do this properly in Columbus and we can do this better than Cleveland, Cincinnati and any other city in the country with some minor tweaks in city legislation, good menu concepts and a zero tolerance for inaccurate and misleading statements that are presented as fact.

Those in the (real) food business know that food trucks are an invitation to problems. The lack of adequate running water and sewer service is an issue. Also many food trucks use many ice chests instead of refrigerators. Ice cannot keep food at the required temperatures as set by the health department standards. It would be safe to say mobile food trucks are not healthy.

I have been in the (real) food business. I still work with and represent people who are in the REAL food business. It is not safe to say mobile food trucks are not healthy…it is outright incorrect. All mobile operations are required to have a three compartment sink and a hand washing sink and they do. As for sewer service….I’m not sure how that is supposed to apply to this situation. Mobile carts are required to (and do) operate from a licensed commissary for food storage, grease and cooking oil disposal and such so they can comply with health and safety guidelines.

Part two: Also many food trucks use many ice chests instead of refrigerators.

Really? Which ones? This not something I have encountered. If so, it what ways were the ice chests used illegally or not in compliance to health code regulations. Again, food carts, trucks and trailers are inspected by the Health Department to make sure they are in compliance with the law (as are restaurants). Operators have to take a food safety class (I took it, it is good and offered in several languages). There are some “bad” mobile operators out there but in my observations the percentage is no higher than the “bad” restaurants. Vote with your pocketbook and if you have a legitimate concern report it, but don’t feed ignorance with assumptions and inaccurate statements.

A final serving of food for thought. When White Castle started in the 1920’s they dealt with many of the same myths of health issues, taxes, etc. These negative comments are a product of fear of something new and ignorance, these are rarely based on a real expereince.

And so ends my editorial.

-soapbox scooted away,
–lights dimmed,
—throat cleared in a dignified manner,
—- exit stage left.

Posted in culinary knowledge, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

Latitude 41: Changing the Attitude on Downtown Dining

Posted by CMH Gourmand on June 2, 2011

Some say Downtown Dining is dead. Others loath downtown, fearing one way streets, parking meters and the search for a parking spot without an obscure towing ordinance. If you are ready to change your attitude on these matters then it is time to try out Latitude 41. This restaurant is “all that and a bag serving of chips (with sea salt of course).

To the casual observer, Latitude 41 might have some elements going against it. It is downtown. It is in a hotel. It does not look like a restaurant from the outside and it takes a bit of side stepping to get to the dining area when arriving. These are all trivial. Three facts trump these concerns. The food is phenomenal, the service is most often superior and valet parking is three bucks.

Why does bargain valet parking make a difference? If it can woo me, then it can woo you too and let you do the right things which would be dining here frequently. As a rule I do not engage in valet parking. This is due to long-established history of frugality. I will often drop off my guests and drive around searching for free parking while they enjoy the services of the restaurant. Such is not my case at Latitude 41. For three dollars, I leave my car at the door and walk in like a rock star. I don’t have to worry about finding a place to park and having change for a meter. I don’t have to worry about the weather on the way back to my car. Doing the math, $3 may be less than I would put in a meter since my average stay for dinner usually exceeds two hours. If you are doing dinner and a show downtown, this valet deal is a steal. It is a little touch but it makes a big difference. Use the money you save to tip your valet.

Simple touches and a subtle approach to all things are the hallmark of Latitude 41. The kitchen crew and front of the house team are dedicated to executing everything well from your greeting to presenting your bill. The enthusiasm and authenticity of manager Roger Vivas is infectious. He welcomes as many diners as he can and makes a sincere effort to get to know his customers by name. The customer focus is shared by his staff. I have visited six times this year. In addition to having my favorite servers Tiffany and Sarah to help me with my selections, Roger always makes an effort to check in when he has time and truly makes me feel welcome, often adding a cocktail suggestion to his greeting.

I am a bit biased about Chef David Maclennan in part because I have had a few beers with him in our off hours. However my true bias comes from the respect I have for his food first focus. David does value good presentation however all of his dishes have real substance. This is simple fare with a twist or an upgrade instead flair and a gimmick. The food is locally obtained when possible and Chef Dave is in the process of planting a rooftop garden to supplement is locavore fare. Chef is also open to having some fun with his food such as Brezel pretzels served with house made cheese sauce and rabbit pot pie made on a double dog dare.

An excellent introduction to what Latitude 41 has to offer comes in four course and six course tasting menus. This is the opportunity for the kitchen to show their cooking chops in several signature plates. The selections vary but most often several are pulled from or inspired by the current menu. If on the fence between six courses or four, opt for the larger and ask your companion go with the smaller version. Another excellent first encounter can be had by attacking the menu via the artisan flatbreads and small plate selections. Some of my favorites from the current line up are the Lobster Mac and Cheese (includes orechiette, mascarpone, truffle oil, parmesan and tuile) as well as their two styles of fries: the hand-cut fries served with truffle, parmesan cheese, spicy house made ketchup and malt vinegar aioli or the Frenchie Fries featuring idaho wedges covered with beef bourguignon, farm style cheese curds and a soft poached egg. Think of the later as poutine on steroids. When available, mussels are a sure thing. It is not uncommon to ask for extra bread to scoop up the “broth” left on the bowl when finished.

The atmosphere of the “house” is refined and relaxed. Jeans are as common as a three-piece. Service reflects this approach as well. Servers are friendly but professional in tone and offer just enough attention without being distracting or interrupting the good conversation that comes with a meal. The bar is a comfortable spot for solo diners although your host or hostess does a wonderful job choosing just the right spot for a table for one. Plenty of window seats allow visitors to watch the coming and goings of downtown Columbus along Third Street. Latitude 41 unveiled their outside patio this spring. It is small area that seats about twenty along East Gay Street. There are a few burners placed outside for warmth and cozy ambiance at the tables. A growing following is choosing the Latitude 41 happy hour as a great excuse to stay downtown past quitting time.

Downtown Dining is not dead, it is growing. In addition to Latitude 41 several other “pioneers” including Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails, Little Palace and The Jury Room are carrying the flag to get our citizens back in the habit of taking a break from the suburban parts of our city to support the growing urban culture of downtown.

Latitude 41
in the Renaissance Hotel
Corner of 3rd and Gay Street
Downtown
614.233.7541

Latitude 41 on Urbanspoon

Posted in Gastronomic Stimulus, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

CLEGourmand: Slyman’s, The Biggest Corned Beef in Cleveland

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 8, 2010

Slyman’s sign says they serve the biggest and best corned beef in Cleveland. There may be one or two corned beef sandwiches in the city of cleved meats that are more brined or quintessentially something or another but there are none that are bigger or served with as much pride. To date no cured meat stacker has tried to dispute the title. I opine that Slyman’s has the best corned beef in town under the mindset of the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts. There are a lot of parts involved in a Slyman’s sandwich. Let’s break the elements of excellence down.

Mass:
Size does matter. Sylman’s delivers stacks of thinly sliced corned beef piled to colossal proportions. My field notes read as follows: The meat to bread ratio of a Slyman’s Corned Beef Sandwich is about 13:1. In retrospect, I believe I underestimated the bulk. A normal eater could eat a quarter of this sandwich and feel satiated. I ate a full half of my corned beef. I tried to offer the other half to the maid at my hotel. She just shook her head and said “that much meat might kill me, sir.” Indeed, but it would be a good way to go.

Lingo:
A good sandwich needs good bread, fresh ingredients, a pickle on the side, a big serving of love and etc. Slyman’s delivers on all of that. They top off the experience with lingo. Over several decades a vocabulary has developed to shorten the process of ordering a big ass sandwich. This is how one orders a corned beef sandwich at Slyman’s. Some translation will ensue with a few examples: Smurf – Swiss and Mustard; Zinger – horseradish only; Sumo – Swiss, mayonnaise and horseradish; and Blaster – Swiss, American cheese, mayonnaise and mustard.

Service:
The grill cooks and servers have been here for decades serving the working class people of the community. “Whaddaya have honey“, never sounded nicer or more authentic than when in comes from a seasoned waitress taking my order at the table. She made sure I didn’t forget anything on my sandwich, checked to make sure I picked the right side dishes to fill me up and wanted to make sure I had enough pickles. Some terms come to mind: old school, earnest and proud.

Character:
The story of Slyman’s is the same as many tales in Cleveland. People get up, go to work, work hard and keep plugging on in good times and bad for their family, friends and neighbors. Good, honest work is a reward in itself and pride is served with a kind word and a can of pop. Slyman’s opened in the 1960’s. An immigrant family decided to make a go in the restaurant business knowing they would not get rich, but they would always have something to eat. Freddie Sylman tells the story of his father, who was asked “Mr Slyman, why do you make your sandwiches so big?” The reply, “To thank America for my freedom.” My response, WOW!

Hundreds of celebrities have supped on sandwiches at Slyman’s over the years, surrounded by a growing collection of Three Stooges decor (no one is sure how this started, they just know it started with a customer bringing something in) and hard working people of both sides of the counter, getting through the day with a smile and some serious hustle. A Slyman’s corned beef sandwich is a greater equalizer and a great thing to share.

Slymans is a landmark and an icon. It is a taste of Cleveland, not just the food, but the character of the city and the people. Slyman’s is the real Cleveland and serves the simple food that keeps things moving along. Sylman’s does have the biggest corned beef in Cleveland served with a lot of heart.

Slyman’s Restaurant
3106 St.Clair Avenue
Cleveland
216. 621.3760

Open Monday to Friday
6:00 am to 2:30 pm

Slyman on Urbanspoon

Posted in CLEGourmand, Gastronomic Stimulus, Ohio, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Why Mobile Food Matters

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 4, 2010

What is the skinny on Street Food? Mobile food vending has exploded in Columbus over the last two years mirroring a national trend. I fell into the world of Taco Trucks on a whim with my good friends Bethia and Andy. We started a website called Taco Trucks Columbus and spent 2009 engrossed in all things Mexican street food. It was a great experience. I learned about parts of town I had never traveled and made very special friends among the owners and the enthusiasts I would not have met in my day-to-day life. This year Street Eats Columbus was created to track and promote the growing non-taco truck vendors that are popping up all over town.

Why has mobile vending gone vogue across the country and especially in Columbus? To quote the 1992 Clinton campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid”. A brick and mortar restaurant costs a lot of money to get going: rent, utilities, (in Columbus) a complicated and confusing series of building and business codes, long hours, etc. The failure rate for new restaurants for the first year is 25% or greater and cumulatively over three years 60% or more. (Other studies report a failure rate as great as 90%). The restaurant business is hard going in good times and perilous in a recession. If you pick a poor location – you are stuck with it.

For many people, getting a loan is the hard part. In a risk adverse economy, money for a new business can be in short supply. Start up costs for a food cart, Taco Truck or trailer kitchen can range from $30,000 to $100,000 or more. Finding used, serviceable equipment is easy so if you are a do it yourselfer and a good cook, you could have your own business for a fraction of what a restaurant would cost. Mobile food means mobility. If you have a bad location – you can move in an hour. If you know where a concentration of hungry people is – you can go there. Mobile operations have smaller menus and usually a quicker turn around for product. Most operations cook what they need for the day or week with little or no food going to rot. This is good for eliminating food waste but a bit frustrating for folks new to street food when they find an item is unavailable.

A food entrepreneur with a good idea can test it out with minimal risk when their cafe is on wheels. A strong concept can spawn additional food carts or a loyal following that will follow the owner to a brick and mortar location. In San Francisco, a good number of mobile food vendors are making six digit profit margins per year. Mobile food can work if you do it right. Another positive of going mobile is customer interaction and instant feedback – chefs love this and often feel disconnected from their customers in a larger operation.

Here are a few local examples. Super Torta II is one of the oldest Taco Trucks in the city. Last year they opened a restaurant near their location. Skillet, a darling of local food enthusiasts, started a mobile operation to spread the gospel of their food first, local, in season cuisine to other parts or town and untapped audiences. Ray Ray’s Hog Pit in Clintonville has grown a loyal following serving BBQ until in runs out (it often does before posted closing hours). Owner Jaime Anderson previously operated restaurants but has found mobile food to be more rewarding and less hassle.

There are some challenges to what I may have painted as a sure thing, slam-dunk profit magnet. Winter weather shuts many of the vendors down or reduces their hours. More than a few Columbusites have a fear and loathing of “street meat”. Some people believe that the food and workspaces are unsanitary. In my experience, I am happy to take chances with a kitchen and cook I can see in operation verses a hidden kitchen and preparers I cannot see. In the world of Taco Trucks, I would often tell people to order one taco and watch how it is prepared and if they see something that scares them – they are only out $1.25. I prefer my odds with a mobile vendor. There are other “perception” problems as well but these are slowly being addressed and acceptance is growing.

Mobile food is not new to Columbus or our country. It was a pathway to being a business owner for early 20th century immigrants selling sausages, hot dogs and more. This food fed factory workers throughout the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s spawning creations including Italian Beef sandwiches, Po Boy’s, hot dogs and more. Mobile food fueled a transition to fast food establishments and a new way of eating. Today, entrepreneurs are relearning and expanding on something old while adding new elements to street fare with vegetarian, locavore and new immigrant food options.

The culture of street food is growing in Columbus. In October, there were two well-attended mobile food events (Food Truck a Palooza at The Ohio Historical Society and Food Cart Food Court at Wonderland). The response to these food cart conglomerations and demand for more of them was overwhelming. Several of the vendors ran out of food. It can be a good thing when supply does not meet demand as long as people keep wanting more. This bodes well.

Now it is time to drive my subject matter home. Why does mobile food matter? The ability to go out and cook food one believes in promotes diversity and innovation in the food the rest of us eat. Entrepreneurs that would not have a chance with a brick and mortar location are getting the opportunity to follow their dreams while we benefit from new menus instead of safe stagnation. Columbus has long sought an opportunity to find an identity. With support and designating some permanent food court areas, our city can establish a niche on the culinary map. Food and food styles identify a city (Chicago: Hot dogs, Pizza, Italian Beef Sandwiches), New York (hot dogs, Reuben’s, bagels), Philadelphia (Philly cheesesteaks)….. You get my drift. We may not find our signature sandwich but we can blow away our old moniker of fast food capital of the world by becoming known as a progressive, innovative food town. Mobile food can be part of that movement. If we eat it, they will come.

Posted in Columbus, food, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »